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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                51
failed to notice that except for this fence and the track
of the road that was rising more and more distinctly out
of the snow, there was nothing to indicate that human
beings were in the vicinity.
At last he reached the top of the hillock. Panting and
gasping for breath, Alexei raised his eyes—and at once
dropped them again, so ghastly was the scene that lay
before him.
There could be no doubt that only recently this had
been a small forest village. Its contours could be easily
distinguished by the two uneven rows of chimneys that
towered above the snow-covered remains of gutted houses.
All he could see were a few gardens, wattle fences, and
a rowan tree that had grown outside a window. Now they
jutted out of the snow, dead and charred by fire. It was
a bare, snow-covered field on which the chimneys stuck
out, like tree stumps in a forest clearing, and in the
middle, looking altogether incongruous, reared the crane
of a well, from which was suspended an old, ironbound
wooden bucket that swung slowly in the wind on its
rusty chain. At the entrance to the village, near a garden
surrounded by a green fence, there was a pretty arch,
under which a gate creaked as it swung slowly on its rusty
hinges.
Not a soul, not a sound, not a wisp of smoke. A desert.
Not a sign of a living human being anywhere. A hare,
which Alexei had scared out of the bush, scampered away
and made straight for the village, kicking up its hind
legs in the funniest fashion. It stopped at the wicket-gate,
sat up, raised its forepaws and cocked an ear; but seeing
this large, strange creature continuing to crawl in its
tracks, it scuttled off again along the line of charred and
deserted gardens.
Alexei continued mechanically to push forward. Big
tears rolled down his unshaven cheeks and dropped into
the snow. He halted at the wicket-gate where the hare
had been a moment before. On the gate were the re-
mains of a board with the letters "Kind___" It was not
difficult to guess that the neat premises of a kindergarten
had stood behind this green fence. There were even a few
low benches which the village carpenter had made and,
in his love for the children, had planed and scraped